Labour celebrates victory in the Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election, dealing a blow to the Coalition in the first test since the general election, as Gary Gibbon reports.
Labour’s Debbie Abrahams was declared the new MP for Oldham East and Saddleworth with a majority of 3,558, after holding off a challenge from the Liberal Democrats.
Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg played down the significance of a defeat after his party came in second place. The Conservative vote fell by more than 7,000 as they trailied in third.
The margin of Labour’s victory will heighten the pressure on the Deputy Prime Minister from his own rank-and-file. It came despite suggestions that David Cameron tried to help out his coalition partner by ordering a low key Tory campaign.
Labour leader Ed Miliband will seize on the strong showing after what has been seen as a faltering start at the party’s helm.
“What the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth were saying was that – when it comes to the rise in VAT, when it comes to the trebling in tuition fees, when it comes to the police cuts – this Conservative-led Government should think again.” Labour leader Ed Miliband
Speaking at a public meeting in Brighton, Mr Miliband said the result would send a “very clear message” to the Government.
“What the people of Oldham East and Saddleworth were saying was that – when it comes to the rise in VAT, when it comes to the trebling in tuition fees, when it comes to the police cuts – this Conservative-led Government should think again,” he said.
“I hope very much that Mr Cameron and Mr Clegg will listen to the voters’ verdict, because we do need politicians to listen and understand.
“But I know also that this is only the first step of the Labour Party to win back trust. We got 29 per cent at the last election. I know we face a very big task.”
Tactical voting at the Oldham East by-election
David Cameron might dismiss the by-election as a typical third party squeeze, but actually there was nothing typical about this election at all, writes YouGove's Anthony Wells for Channel 4 News.
Read more: Tactical voting at the Oldham East by-election
New Labour MP Debbie Abrahams said her victory sent a clear message to the Coalition Government which she branded as “reckless”.
“The voters have spoken for the country. They have sent a clear message for those watching in Downing Street,” Mrs Abrahams said, adding that the victory was “the first step in a long journey”.
Nick Clegg met senior Lib Dem colleagues to discuss the election result during the morning, although aides denied it was a crisis meeting.
The Liberal Democrats have fallen dramatically in polls since entering the Coalition and abandoning their pledge to oppose tuition fee hikes.
Oldham East Lib Dem candidate Elwyn Watkins polled 11,160 votes to Ms Abrahams’ 14,718. Tory Kashif Ali came a distant third with 4,481.
The by-election was called after a special court declared last year’s contest void due to Labour victor Phil Woolas making false statements about Lib Dem opponent Elwyn Watkins.
“We started in third place and we ended in third place. That is often the way with by-elections” David Cameron
At the 1997 General Election Mr Woolas won by a majority of 3,389 on a much higher turnout than yesterday’s respectable 48.06 per cent.
Eight months ago, Labour won the seat by just 103 votes from the Lib Dems but last night secured a much clearer victory – finishing 3,558 votes ahead of their closest rivals with 14,718 votes. The party’s share of the vote increased by 10 per cent to 42 per cent.
Although the Lib Dems polled almost 3,000 fewer votes than last May, their share of the latest vote actually increased by 0.3 per cent to 32 per cent of the lower turnout.
Mr Clegg, who made a series of high-profile visits to the seat, said: “This was a very hard-fought contest but we were not able to gain this Labour seat on this occasion.
“It was always going to be a big ask to take this seat from Labour, given the circumstances. We are undertaking some enormously difficult decisions because Labour left Britain’s economy in a mess and we are now forced to clean up after them.
“By 2015, I hope that the people of Oldham and Saddleworth will see, like everyone else in the country, that the difficult choices we made were the right ones and that Britain is in better shape than when we entered government.”
The Conservative share was 12.8 per cent.
During a visit to Newcastle, David Cameron said that his party had fought a “good campaign”.
“I am proud of the campaign we fought,” he said. “Of course, we started in third place and ended in third place. That is often the way with by-elections. This was not an unexpected result.”
As he left, the Prime Minister’s motorcade was surrounded by around 50 student protesters chanting “Tory scum”. One was led away by police.